It’s hard to believe that before 2000, professional baseball had been absent in California’s State Capitol for 23 long years. Those days of having to travel to Lodi, Stockton or Fresno to see the pros, however, are today just a bad memory for fans of the Sacramento River Cats, arguably the most successful franchise in the minor leagues. The River Cats average more than 10,000 fans a game – best in the minor leagues – and have won 11 Pacific Coast League division titles since 2000. Twice Sacramento won the Triple A Championship.
With all that success in the rear view mirror, baseball returned to Raley Field last Friday night, and fans were treated to a night of quiet celebration that focused on the game. The faithful were justly rewarded with a thrilling, 8th-inning grand slam by first baseman Nate Freiman that gave the River Cats a come-from-behind 7-6 victory. The baseball gods aren’t usually so accommodating.
The opener was a long one, clocking in at more than 3 ½ hours, but the 12,142 fans in attendance didn’t seem to mind, as most seemed to be thankful April was finally here, and with it, the dawn of a fresh season.
Throwing out the ceremonial first pitch was Sacramento native Jerry Manuel and his grandson, Malachi. Manuel graduated from Cordova High School in 1972 and was the top draft pick of the Chicago White Sox, a team he later managed, earning him a Manager of the Year Award. I wrote about Manuel in 1980 when he was still a struggling minor leaguer in the Montreal Expos’ organization.
After Friday’s big victory, the winning continued throughout the four-game series against the Bees, as Sacramento won Saturday night 5-4, then sweepings a rare scheduled doubleheader on Sunday, 8-2 and 3-0. Sounds like a great start to the River Cats’ 15th year.
“Fifteen years? We’re planning on being here a hundred,” said Mark Ling, Coordinator, Public Relations & Baseball Operations.
Ling highlighted the River Cats’ busy promotional calendar for 2014, which includes a just-released app that syncs team information, social media, schedules and promotions, mobile ticket sales and even food orders.
Fans at Raley Field will be able to see postgame fireworks after every Friday and Saturday home game, 22 fireworks shows in all when you throw in the Independence Day show on July 3. When you’re at the ballpark, pick up a free copy of The Inside Pitch for a full list of what’s coming up, or visit the River Cats web page at www.milb.com/index.jsp?sid=t105.
Meanwhile, see you at Raley Field!
Photos © Steve Martarano